Food security and poverty status across generations

The persistence of disadvantage across generations is a central concern for social policy in the United States. While an extensive literature has focused on economic mobility for income, much less is known about the mechanisms for mobility out of poverty or material hardship. This study provides the first estimates of the intergenerational transmission of food insecurity and poverty status from childhood into early adulthood. An advantage of studying the transmission of food insecurity is that it provides a direct measure of well-being compared to income-based poverty measures. In this study, we use panels of childhood and adult food security measures in the Panel Study of Income Dynamics over the survey years 1997 (using the Child Development Supplement) through early release data for 2017. Childhood food insecurity is associated with about 20 percentage points higher probability of food insecurity as an adult (or 10 percentage points conditional on income and wealth). The estimated transmission of food insecurity is robust to using different measures of food security as well as to applying instrumental variable methods for panel data that account for an individual’s fixed ability endowment. This study establishes an important benchmark for measuring persistence in long-term family well-being and labor market outcomes.



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Christopher Wimer Robert Paul Hartley Jaehyun Man